Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Just another day at Spiel 2014

After our pretty successful first day in Essen, we returned still burning with curiosity and enthusiasm.

Our first stroke on Friday was to try out Fire in the Lake at the UGG stand. We were quickly into the game as we’ve already played Cuba Libre. But while the mechanics are familiar, FitL is much more complex. There’s more units, more areas and possibly longer scenario’s. So we did a couple of enjoyable rounds, but not really knowing what would be a good strategy for each faction.

We then split up as two of us had arranged to play a prototype of Mahardika. This game about the Indonesian independence struggle has the feel of Pandemic, with a similar engine running ‘the Enemy’ (ie the Dutch colonial state and its allies) as the outbreaks. The main interest is how it ties in the history into the objective cards. You either solve two series of objectives, or you get defeated by the Enemy. It is hopeful to see this game coming from Indonesia.

Mahardika will not be published until later this year, but the publisher had Mat Goceng available, a simple card game where you duel your opponents with hidden identity and hidden objectives as the catch. I hope to play it soon.

We then reconvened to play Euphoria, a worker placement game that owes most of its appeal to the brilliant application of the theme to the board and game pieces. Brilliant green and orange, suitably dystopic locations such as the Furnace of Historical . It is also neat that the workers are dice and you roll for their value every time they are taken off the board. Some of mechanisms neatly tied into the theme such as the risk of too much knowledge leading to workers escaping, but the layer of theme remains thin overall. So if you like worker placement games, this might actually be one of the more fun to have around.

Then Tragedy Looper. One that has good reviews from folks at Fortress Ameritrash so I wanted to try it out. I was cast as the MasterMind, ie the bad guy/gm. I think it is a wise move that Z-Man have included a introductory guide for the Mastermind in the first game because it really is tough to play it straight off the bat. I still made a clumsy mistake on the second day of the second loop which cost me the game. The players did well in deducting several of the character roles but not all.

As a treat we got to play the prototype of Conan Hyborian Quests, which will Kickstarter in January. The mechanism seem fine for a skirmish game, with the players spending energy and deciding whether they recover fast or slow. As all the scenarios have a time limit these are important decisions. The Bad Guy/Mastermind has a similar mechanic, and he uses energy to activate units or to roll emergency defense.

The evening was started with a quick game of Lost Legacy: Starship. It is strongly modeled on Love Letters with a slightly different ending (players having the opportunity to guess who has the ‘starship’). Nice, but I’m not sure that it will be worth it having several of these.

The main feature was Onward to Venus, a solid Martin Wallace steam punk fiction design. Ranging between Venus and the Kuiper Belt, the great European nations of the early 20th century take to the exploitation of these planets’ mineral resources, and some occasional big game hunting. The joy is in the possible crises on the planets (eg Martian attacks) and the bonus cards. After a tight finale we retired to bed well satisfied with another long and hard day’s work.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Spiel 2014 day one

I went to Essen with a rather long list of games I looked out for but it always proves hard to check everything you want and luckily you also run into happy accidents

Hyperborea was a great start to the show. It allows for different strategies, offers some interesting events and sets up for conflict. It’s rightly been likened to Eclipse. We went through a few rounds and then decided it was a winner.

Run, Fight or Die is the umptiest zombie game and I realized I was suffering from zombie fatigue after a decade of exposure. And although there is some kind of a challenge in there, it is mostly multiplayer solo.

Spartacus is one of the first games by Gale Force Nine and although it probably isn’t the edgiest design, the intrigue is fun. Trash talk flows naturally and you find yourself booing gladiators that don’t try hard enough.

Theme and the fact that it is published by a Greek company drew me to Gothic Invasion. How can you not get excited for the war that inflicted one of the heaviest defeats on the Roman Empire and saw the death of an Emperor? The designer gave us an overview. Play is card driven with 2 or 3 options per card. Forces and objectives are asymmetric, so there is a lot of maneuver on the map. You can see there is a lot of promise in there. Although it can be played with more than two, there is no rivalry or separate objective. It just didn’t do it for my friends so I was faced with buying a game that wouldn’t get played.

Time Masters tries a new approach to deck building by making time the key unit. It works, because the game speeds up and slows down. But I didn’t feel like I was achieving anything worthwhile by building the deck. Somehow I couldn't find a way to hold the cards due to the horizontal design. And who asks €35 for a card game these days?

The evening in the bar and restaurant was spent with Unicum, Verone/Council of Verona and Auge um Auge. All three are excellent for beer and pretzels. Unicum offers a small box for a short game with a neat betting war hidden in it. This is fun, but I just wish the ‘uniqueness’ argument mattered a bit more. If you can get into the spirit of bogus arguments that helps.

I think that Verone is a truly great microgame, with all trying to influence the outcome of the feud between the Montagues and Capulets. It is worthwhile getting the French edition because I like the art better (and it automatically includes the Poison expansion, which is a neat addition). Pic above is the English version.

I’m not sure about Auge um Auge though. It is mostly a dice rolling fest with an alliance system. There are some abilities that help you create series, which you need to inflict black eyes on your opponents. But the alliance system is what makes the game interesting, because ganging up and keeping the front runner out of fist fights is the key. It may be a bit long for the amount of fun it holds. Art work nice, as always with Sphinx games.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Spiel 2014 longlist

Having browsed the lists of games coming out at Spiel this week, and with some suggestions from others, I have come to this list of games I will be looking for. It's adding up to about fifty, so I've narrowed it down to over a dozen games that I really would like to know more about and the rest would be nice. Of course I've now got an idea what they are about.

Stuff that gives me a good feeling

  • 15 Dias. My old time friend: el Conde-Duque de Olivares
  • 1944: Race to the Rhine. Always been fascinated by the logistics of this campaign. Check out Matt Thrower's review
  • Coup: Reformation. I just loved Coup.
  • First to Fight. will be interesting to see what they can make out of this
  • Gothic Invasion. great subject, plus multiplayer. And good to see Greek publishers attending!
  • Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice. Dice rolling, and looks good.
  • Battle of the Five Armies. The guys from War of the Ring at it again. Not an Essen release but who cares?
  • Mahardika. Fascinating to find a game about the Indonesian War of Liberation. As a Dutchman I'm used to watch it from the other perspective so I should learn a lot from this (maybe more about current perceptions of the war in Indonesia than what actually happened). But I'll be curious about their handling of British troops, Dutch internees in camps, Dutch atrocities, Moloccans etc
  • Marchia Orientalis. As a fan of the Holy Roman Empire (although I do not seek a return to it), this could be right up my alley
  • Mat Goceng. Interesting piece of Dutch/Indonesian colonial history from the Indonesian viewpoint.And good to see Indonesian publishers attending!
  • Mythotopia. Wallace's multiplayer version of A Few Acres of Snow
  • Raid and Trade. theme and minis promising
  • Samurai Spirit. The 7 samurai in game form, with a very postive review from SU&SD
  • Tragedy Looper. See Charlie Theel's review on 2D6
  • Wir sind das Volk! Interesting to see that somebody thinks East Germany could have beaten West.

Check out my list on boardgamegeek if you want to have a closer look at the games. 
And the Spielbox overview of all the games released at Spiel. So you can figure out stand numbers if you intend to visit yourself.

I will be tweeting @jurdj as always.

Stuff that might be good, but perhaps not

I might pick up one the cheaper ones

  • €uro Crisis
  • Abraca... what?
  • Abyss
  • Airborne Commander
  • Athlas: Duel for Divinity
  • Conan: Hyborian Quests
  • Corto: The Secrets of Venice
  • Cyclades: Titans
  • Dixit: Daydreams
  • Empire Engine
  • Fantastiqa
  • Fief: France 1429
  • Fresh Fish
  • Greenland
  • Guatemala 1954
  • Hyperborea
  • Illegal
  • Lost Legacy
  • Memorable Stories
  • New Dawn
  • Night of the Grand Octopus
  • Onward to Venus
  • Patchistory
  • Pocket Imperium
  • Quartermaster General
  • Romans Go Home!
  • Stimmvieh
  • Swedish Parliament 2014
  • The Walled City: Londonderry & Borderlands
  • Tiny Epic Kingdoms
  • Unicum
  • Uruk II: Die Entwicklung Geht Weiter
  • Vérone

Review: German Infantryman vs Soviet Rifleman – Barbarossa 1941

German Infantryman vs Soviet Rifleman – Barbarossa 1941
German Infantryman vs Soviet Rifleman – Barbarossa 1941 by David Campbell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Describes the fighting of German an Soviet troops in the opening stages of Operation Barbarossa, so a combination of first line Soviet troops and the new armies that were hastily thrown into battle in July.

There's a lot of Glantz but not much in terms of accounts by Soviet participants, which would have been a great boon in understanding what it was like for Russian soldiers.

The choice to show three encounters from this early phase of Barbarossa can be defended although I think a comparison of fighting in June/July, August/September and October-December would have better shown the development of fighting capabilities of the Wehrmacht and Red Army over time.

I guess the Combat series is picking up for me, but it has not reached its potential.

View all my reviews

Friday, 10 October 2014

Review: The Autobiography of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper

The Autobiography of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper
The Autobiography of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper by Scott Frost

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With the return of Twin Peaks to the screen I could help picking this one off the shelf. Ranging from the weird to the hilarious. How can we not be interested in how Dale Cooper came to find his strong mental powers, when he first discovered coffee and pie, the letter he received from J. Edgar Hoover, how he lost his cherry or how he met Windom Earle?

Some of the stuff on the Teresa Banks murder conflicts with what happens in Fire Walk With Me, but small beef.

View all my reviews

Monday, 6 October 2014

Return to Dux

It had been a long time since my first game of Dux Brittaniarum, and I was glad to get another go last Saturday. My knowledge of the rules was rusty and although I picked up the basics soon enough, I didn't get the finesse of card hand management.

Dick and I set up a campaign in the kingdom of Caerwent, where former Saxon auxiliaries had turned on their former Roman employers around 550 AD. In spring my Saxons under lord Artelric ambushed a Romano-British waggon train. And although I successfully distracted some good enemy units with some warriors, I always found myself one step behind in a tit for tat with the rest of the enemy. It had been a pretty chaotic raid, and by the end Artelric's men were slowly rounded up in a small area. A last ditch attempt to capture the wagons failed and the remnants of his force fled.

Later that summer the rejuvenated warband returned to raid a village but just as his men started to search the houses for loot, the Romano-British appeared out of nowhere. Again, I was on the receiving end and despite some serious retribution again Artelric's men left the field empty handed.

By now Artelric's nickname The Martyr has raised some suspicion among his following about his chances of success in the future. Getting wounded every time surely doesn't help although his willingness to get into the thick of the fighting stands him in good stead. It is to be hoped that he and his devout henchmen One-Eyed Aelfwyn and Ine the Pious will be able to turn around the series of bad luck, because there is little time until winter and payment to king Cwichelm is due...

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Won by the Sword and more

So after my last lament at getting so little gaming in, this has been a good catch up. Managed to play Won By The Sword. As a recent arrival with limited length of rules I decided it was best to get it to the table instead of something else.

It took us an evening to get through the first month (ie 5 activations of 5 armies each) of the 1632 scenario including a major battle and a small siege. The manoeuvring was a lot more hectic than I'd thought it would be. By the end we felt reasonably comfortable with the rules (there's not a lot of them but some of it is complex).

What I liked about Won by the Sword was that it promoted historical strategies, like laying waste an area so you make it more difficult for your opponent to attack you; and splitting off a separate cavalry column to forage.

Although it is a main part of the game, the foraging feels clunky, mostly because you make about 30 dice rolls in a turn just for that (no kidding). Too much looking up. I understand the wish to randomise but with this many rolls, the results tend to the average. 

Oh well, no judgement till I've played a bit more

Yesterday we were supposed to play a game of Civilization but changed our minds. We had a very tight game of In The Name Of The Rose, where Diederick scraped a just few points less than Michiel and me, even though I saw through his little trick!

Then continued with Love Letters. Michiel finally got most letters through. Love Letters was perceived as okay but not as cool as King of Tokyo which we played next. And again. And again. Absolute hit I guess!

Brutal as always I think we all won one of the games, and I won the last, very unlikely, with one health left. Epic, n'est-ce pas?

And in terms of New Years Resolutions this means one more unplayed game scratched off!

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Essen 2013 Challenge Completed

With Essen 2014 fast approaching, I can draw up the result of my self imposed Essen 2013 challenge. What games did I manage to play that I bought there?

Rats in the Walls (at Essen 2013)
Strajk (Christmas Offensive 2013)
Concept (January 2014)
Sigismundis Augustus (19 september 2014)

Which means I have actually managed to play all four games I bought, but only just in time. These weren't the toughest games to learn, so you can see how hard it is for me now to make the effort. But I can go to Essen knowing my hands are free to buy games.

But the sad story is that the past few months, I haven't played many games. Only 5 since the end of June. Apart from Sigismundis Augustus there were the familiar Civilization and Battlestar Galactica. I learned the Game of Thrones card game I had bought for Died's birthday. Newly bought Pathfinder was also good, but doesn't really count towards my NYR because it wasn't my copy.

In terms of getting 13 unplayed games from my collection to the table this year, I'm now at 7, so behind schedule.The sterner among you (and who can remember the New Years' Resolution) will note that I also played Eight Minute Empire, which although I didn't buy it at Essen was also mandatory to play before the deadline.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Sigismundus Augustus

Managed to play a new game last Saturday! I bought Sigismundus Augustus last Essen from Polish publisher Fabryka Gier Historycznych Fundacja Niepodległości.

King Sigismund of Poland was best known for his acquisition of Lithuania by the end of his reign, while Poland itself in the early modern periode is best known for its chaotic politics. It is exactly the latter part of history that this game focusses on. Players are powerful families within the Polish Diet (Sejm), vying for the most profitable offices (governors, ministers, clergy).

The game is won on victory points, for the most part derived from holding offices or from diplomatic relations with neighbouring states like Moscovia, Lithuania and Austria. There's three important phases in the game: the policy, the action and the Sejm phase.

In the policy phase, players can play one policy card. The cards allow you to attack another player,
Perhaps the most important action is to activate a neighbouring state so that it will be scored at the end of the turn. In the foreign policy phase each player can at least place one token on a neighbouring state. The VP are scored by the player with the most and the second most tokens on this state.

The action phase is based on worker placement. Each player has at least 3 clients to take actions like taxing, diplomacy in a neighbouring state, gain influence among the nobles or magnates or make an office available to bid upon in the Sejm phase.

There is another randomising element to the game in one of these actions: the deck of Polish characters from the age. These can be enlisted by the players for their direct advantage or victory point bonus at the end of the game. Since the deck is much larger than the amount of cards drawn in a game, this helps increasing replayability.

The Sejm phase is the heart of the game, although it doesn't hand out any victory points. It starts with collecting the votes you can cast from your position on the noble, magnate and royal support tracks. Some ministerial offices and discarded internal policy cards offer extra votes. Next, players can blindly bid money for votes, and then blindly bid votes to sell. The highest bid of money is exchanged for the highest offer of votes and so on. A neat mechanism.

Players first vote on each office that has become available. Next, the Sejm commits itself to fulfilling the royal demand. The king desires money, troops or just votes. Again all players bid blind. This determines the amount of royal favour (ie votes) for the next turn, with the player spending the most resources becoming the king's favourite which gives you the valuable right to decide on all ties.

Finally, each turn after the first, the players also vote on a piece of legislation, which changes the game rules, for example restricting the number of offices that can be held. All votes here are open and players just indicate whether they agree or disagree with the proposal.

The turn the ends with the scoring phase and the upkeep of the troops.

First impressions a largely positive. In one game, we found it hard to figure out clear strategies. There's so much happening that it seems hard to focus on one aspect. But the mechanisms feel to have been integrated well.

One odd thing is that in the last turn several parts of the game lose their meaning. There is no reason to worry about the upkeep of your troops, or even to fulfil the king's demand, as the result has no effect on the game.

It is not an easy game to learn. The rules are written pretty densely, there are a lot of mechanisms that tie into each other and how this works out only really become clear by playing. But it is worthwhile. Leave it to Polish designers to integrate euro mechanisms with historical themes. I'm pretty sure we will have another go at this one.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Boardgame Invasion

Well I was supposed to get rid of games rather than acquire new ones, but I had time stacked against me. Yesterday I received Won By The Sword, a GMT game on the southern German campaigns of the 30 Years War. 

I had pre-ordered it so long ago I had actually forgotten about it until I got a note saying my credit card had been charged. No disappointment really, because what I've seen of it so far bodes well. The game is of medium difficulty so I could get it played reasonably easily. And I'm looking at it from the point of playing double blind. Perhaps...

Also, earlier this month I got my share of the inheritance of Frank van den Bergh, who died almost two years ago. His books and games were auctioned to raise money for a charity of his choice. So last year I bid with a good conscience and I don't count them towards my non new games limit.

S&T Austro-Prussian War (1994)
S&T Byzantium (1996)
S&T Khan: The Rise of the Mongols
Air Assault On Crete/Invasion of Malta: 1942 (1977)
1809: Napoleon's Danube Campaign (1984)
Risorgimento (1997)
Risorgimento 1859 (2000)
Cactus Throne: The Mexican War of 1862-1867 (2005)
Guerra a Muerte (2008)
Chinese Civil War (1979)
Barons' War (2004)
Napoleon at Bay: The Campaign in France (1978)
Napoleon at the Crossroads (2006)
The Struggle of Nations (1982)
Balkan Wars (1993)
The Egyptian Campaign (2008)
Ataturk! (2003)
Montebello: First Step to Freedom (2003)
Solferino 1859 (2004)
Pour Dieu et Pour le Roy (2005)
Les deux Bretagne (2007)
Libertadores 1810-1824 (2003)
Car Wars Expansion Set #4, Armadillo Autoduel Arena (1983)
Car Wars (1981)

A good moment to remind you all that if you have a large collection of miniatures, books and games, it might be helpful to have it sorted out and catalogued before you die. I've seen several cases over the last few years where the execution of wargamers' inheritance became a task involving months of work for remaining friends (also see Chris Stoesen's and Bob Cordery's experience ). On the other hand, it will make sure you'll be remembered, if not always positively.

Of course, knowing that this was coming up made it easier for me to be strict on the No-New-Games-This-Year (except Essen) resolution.